Durham Vice-Chancellor addresses world conference on ‘working together’
(19 July 2006)
Some of Durham University’s pioneering ’cross-over’ research where scientists and non-scientists work together is being highlighted by its Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, at an international conference of university leaders in Thailand this week.
Sir Kenneth is chairing the strand on ‘New Trends and Innovations’ at the World University Presidents Summit in Bangkok and giving the keynote address on ‘Crossing the Boundaries of Disciplines and Nations’. He stresses the importance of interaction between people in different areas of knowledge so that the resulting insight and benefits can be greater than the sum of the parts. He says: “It is at these interfaces – in chemistry, biology, engineering, medicine and so on – where new developments, discoveries and innovations are likely to occur. These are based on strong individual disciplines, but they should also interact with public policy and the social consequences and ethical implications of the scientific developments.” He added: “This is where the public understanding of the scientific background to developments can be debated and discussed, so that the work can contribute fully to the expansion of knowledge and education.” Two examples at Durham are the Centre for the Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine (CAHHM) which examines the contribution that the arts can make to public health and medical care; and the Institute of Hazard and Risk, based initially on physical geography research into unstable landscapes, which has grown into a key international resource by bringing in a range of other academic disciplines, including social sciences, to look at the human consequences of landslides and flooding, how to anticipate disasters and reduce their impact. A third development at Durham, which opens this year, is the Institute of Advanced Studies, a fully multi-disciplinary framework for bringing together visiting scholars in the sciences, social sciences and humanities from around the world. They will spend time in Durham to pursue their work and participate with Durham staff and students in the examination of key topics, such as the ‘Legacy of Darwin’, ‘On Being Human’ and ‘Cities’. The World Summit, on the general theme of Diversity and Harmonisation, is attended by more than 40 university chiefs and leading representatives from international organisations such as UNESCO and the World Bank.